Monday, September 08, 2008

Paying it Forward

Today as I was walking to class I noticed the sky darkening and the temperature dropping. I had neither an umbrella nor a jacket with me, and could see that rain was imminent, but it was too late to grab either at that point. Sure enough, by the time class was out an hour and a half later, it was pouring.

I must have looked really miserable, waiting in the rain for the bus in my t-shirt and jeans, because a girl walked over to me and said "You look really cold and wet," and proceeded to share precious umbrella space with me. It was really touching. There I was, a grumpy senior standing in the cold, winter-is-coming rain, thinking about how I should know by now to always have an umbrella in my backpack, and what looked to be a freshman girl offered me some shelter under her umbrella.

Once I was on the bus, I started thinking about the Hollies song, "Bus Stop."

Bus stop, wet day, she's there I say
Please share my umbrella

But it also got me thinking about the concept of "paying it forward."

Last thursday, I was riding the same bus line. It's almost always crowded because it circles through the entire campus, and I was riding it at the busiest time of the day. It was standing-room only, and people were packed in as close as our backpacks would allow. Quite miserable, really. But the bus driver, an older gentleman, made sure that we all moved back as far as possible to allow everyone on. "We're not leaving anyone behind!" he kept exclaiming in the general direction of the rear of the bus. And he meant it. He didn't seem to mind waiting for oblivious students with their cell phones and iPods to move, crowd closer together. He also made sure that everyone who needed to get off at a certain stop actually made it off. I've seen students get nicked by the closing doors of CATA buses, and I know that sometimes people really have no choice other than to continue on to the next stop. He made it a point to greet everyone who stepped on to the bus, and gave a cheery "Have a nice day!" to people exiting.

Driving a bus, especially that line, has got to be a mostly-thankless job. And yet this man was unfailing polite and cheerful. I'm sure he's someone's grandfather, and a well-loved one at that.

So after pushing my way off the bus at my stop, I called the main CATA office. "I just want to let you know what a great job your driver John is doing on the 31." I told them how polite and friendly he was, and how great he was at stops even though there were so many people getting on and off. The woman I talked to seemed genuinely surprised and pleased to get that kind of a call— CATA is an oft-maligned service, and I'm sure they get lots of angry calls. But I thought John deserved a little recognition, and after I got off the phone I felt pretty good, too. Who knows, maybe getting that feedback made his day?

But I do know for sure that being able to stand under that umbrella made mine.


an.t. said...

Nice. This reminds me of a story my yoga teacher told me: she was driving to Boston, and someone behind her was tailgating her...when she got to the toll booth, she said, "I'd like to pay for the car behind me, too. Please tell him that I'm sorry if I inadvertently cut him off, or something...and to have a nice day." She said, "I have no idea what effect it had on him, if any, but I realized I needed to change my own energy..."

gaz said...

nice... that's a good outlook to have on life.
my mom tells a story of when she gave someone her coat once when they were standing in the rain. her bus arrived first so she gave it to this other old dear who had to wait for hers to arrive.
we should not underestimate what a difference these small displays of kindness can make.